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The following posts will detail the events surrounding and leading up to Antinous Vasper joining the crew of the Edge of Dawn. His motivations are still shrouded in mystery, and can only be assumed based on what scant information he's provided his fellow crewmembers -- which is to say, little of any value. To further Antinous's enigmatic persona, few posts will take place inside his head, if at all. At best we will see reports he's filed or papers he's written.
Antinous Vasper is a Highborn Cassian, the fourth child of the prestigious House Vasper, and a graduate of several Cassus universities. His presence on Nexus is as a member of the Royal Collegium and a representative of House Vasper's business interests. Most recently, Antinous has disappeared, and little to no information is present on where he has gone.
There was no point.
There was never a point.
He hadn't understood that. Not then, and evidently, not now.
A knock on the door. That was all. Easily unanswered, that knock, a fretful patter of knuckle and steel. The muffled voice meant nothing. "Come back..."
The datapad's incandescent glow shed silver light in a bath around his pale fingers, made his fingernails gleam like steel in the dark. Crested starlight shimmered across the pool of water that gurgled and croaked to his left, and to his right was the cliff. Winds swept at his face, tore raking fingers through his hair, and the argent glow made Whitevale's surface a blinding glare of eternal white.
Nothing. No one.
Vasper would pay.
No one stole the Collegium's work without ramification. His noble blood would not protect him.
He pressed the datapad shut. He didn't believe for a moment the fool had gone and gotten himself kidnapped by the Seltorium. The pirates weren't in the business of ransoming Highborn sons -- no, they took, and they killed. A smarter Cassian, not this pretender, would have chosen a more conniving pirate crew.
Instead, he had erred. Vasper had erred, well and truly displaying he was unfit to lead House Vasper on Nexus.
No one stole from the Collegium. Not even him.
He rose from his crouch in a groan of metal and a whisper of leather harness. The whorl of infinite stars glittered down at him with the Eldan's eternal expectation.
They were not alone in their judgment. The Collegium wanted their research back. They would have it.
And, if all went well, that research would be stained with Vasper blood.
"How long can you run?" he said to the sky, to Antinous Vasper, wherever he now hid. "And where can you hide that I cannot find you?"
The wind moaned its answer.
It would never be enough. But his blood... Fresh, sweet, spilled just so...
It would have to do.
He broke from his stillness, from the quiescent waiting game he'd played again and again with Antinous Vasper, since that first day so long ago.
The boy --a boy no longer-- was powerful. But there was much the man had kept from Vasper, to always have that edge. He was no fool.
Enhancements or not, Vasper would die.
A pity. Someone else's pity.
Posted Jan 27, 17
· Last edited Jan 27, 17
Lord Murcillus Vasper II
"Are you certain, my lord?"
The Mechari's voice was mellifluous and whispered throughout the bedchamber. Opulent curtains shaded the outside rumble of Cassus from without, and Lord Murcillus Vasper raised a goblet of rich plum wine to his lips. He waited until the sour stain went cold down his throat and settled icily in the pit of his belly before speaking.
"I'm certain, Elto."
"Then why the need for secrecy, lord? Surely a team could be dispatched..."
To find my son? Is that what you mean to say, Elto? Murcillus had to release the snort that welled up inside of his long, beakish nose, and he set the goblet down in a crash of slopping liquid over the velvet seat. Various attendants situated around the room in their white gowns flinched back, and only Elto with his luminescent jade photo-receptors and soul crystal, body sleek with brass metals, remained cool.
"A team, dispatched all the way from Cassus to Nexus? Do not seek to bely ignorance with sympathy." Murcillus cared little for the Mechari advisor's feelings on the matter -- his son, kidnapped? With all the money House Vasper had poured into Antinous's enhancements, all the training that had come of the Project... If you have gone and gotten yourself snatched, boy, pirates will be the least of your worries.
Murcillus rose ponderously to his feet, grateful for the shadows the indigo shades provided. His bedchambers were long and expansive, sheathed in gold tiles and waxing with holographic images of the Luminai, of the Half-Blood. Tapestries of long-faced Vaspers of old hung all across the tiled walls, the stuffed velvet chairs framed in gilded gold. And to think, his wayward, prodigal son had abandoned all of this...
"Has ICI been informed?" Murcillus said, keeping his voice at a bare mutter. The tassels of his royal cloak swept out behind him and the attendants about the bedchamber melted back into the walls, disappearing into their cubbies, and Elto followed along with the sleek hiss of his metallic body. "The Collegium-"
"Has already dispatched Watcher Zero," Elto said. Murcillus grunted and continued along, pressing open the double doors with a flick of his cane. He didn't truly need the thing, but the clear gem atop the pommel, ah, he wouldn't go to make water without that.
Beyond were the wide halls of Manor Vasper. Deep in the heart of Cassus, the throbbing capital of Dominion culture, and Murcillus had inherited it all. All the careful cultivation of generation after generation of Vaspers, and here it was, laid bare in the form of cool marble, golden tiles, the spills of wealth arrayed out for him to touch at a glance.
Only to be left behind. It was inevitable. Murcillus had always preached to his children the inevitable. Death, destiny, call it what you would, in the end, it claimed them all.
"It was a matter of time regardless," the Lord said, and he tapped his cane across the polished stone, a rhythmic tapping tap that alerted the guards in their shining red and black colors to stand tall. "That we should be forced to relocate to Nexus, abandoning all that we've worked to achieve here."
"That you stayed here so long was an unprecedented move, my lord."
"Yes, and we've milked this one dry. Now my son beckons for his family, and who are we to ignore? We've lost one Vasper to Nexus. We will not lose another." Pronymis, my sweet girl...
"My lord," Elto said, his voice a grating hush as they passed by a troupe of lesser bureaucrats awaiting audience in the tiered antechamber, "you mustn't blame yourself for Pronymis. We all stand behind you in this."
"And what would you know of a father's grief?" Murcillus said. The snarl in his voice took even the Mechari aback, and Murcillus did not relent his advantage as they wended through the bowels of his Manor. "What would any of you know what it means, to have the Legion send you a wax-printed certificate of honor, proclaiming that your daughter's death was, what, honorable? That she died in the name of the Emperor and the Dominion?"
He waited until they passed a gaggle of guards pacing down the length of a carpeted corridor before hissing at Elto again. "Listen and listen well. You are here to advise, not to offer me sympathy. And if a word of this reaches my wife's ears..." Murcillus let the threat trail off, but his eyes fixed to the Mechari's emblazoned brass features.
Elto's circular 'eye' rotated and hissed as the metal frame whirred about. "Understood, my lord. I apologize for overstepping my duties. I am merely concerned, as we all are."
"Concern yourself for my son's welfare," Murcillus said. He turned away and made an adjustment of his coat. There it was. The sweeping archway that hung with moist vines, and the view of the spaceport beyond. The view of the inevitable. "Leave me, Elto. I have much to think on."
The Mechari bowed one last time and retreated. Murcillus was alone, then, alone with the distant hubbub of voices and traffic in a world vastly receding in its place in history. And somewhere out there, he knew, a prodigal son waited to be found.
Murcillus's hand clenched, and the cane whimpered its protest.
Posted Jan 30, 17
· Last edited Jan 30, 17
She dreamt, as she always did, of the dawn.
It was their shared secret, spoken only in the embers of their passion as they lay in the perfumed pillows. They smelled of vanilla and jasmine, covered in silks, entwined in their nakedness. But they never dared speak elsewhere of this, their most sacred compact, lest others come and take it.
She dreamt of a boy with his face. Elfin and angular at the jaw and cheeks, like they were made from the stencil lines she’d seen at the art galleries in Illium. His lips were soft as satin and he had tragedy trapped in his eyes, so dark in their blue hues she’d have sworn they were black. He knelt beside a pool with water dark as ink, surrounded in white candles that shed a weak glow. And try as she might to reach out to him he couldn’t, or didn’t, see.
He wore a silvery cloak and his hair shivered like gold leaves, and he dipped his fingers into the black pool. “Solitude is not our fate,” he said, that forbidden mantra that could only mean something to those who knew, “you know that, don’t you?” He wouldn’t look up at her, his powdered face staring at his own reflection in the murky depths.
Always, she meant to say, but there was nothing for it. His face turned away again before she could find it in her to speak. How could anyone respond to that? His compassion, his humility, humbled her every day.
She dreamt of the one he’d told her about, spritely and pale-skinned, hair coppery as fire lit by the sun. She had yet to see his face but her dream provided, a smudged image of someone white as snow –“pure,” he’d called this boy, “I can’t leave him, I’m sorry…”
I’m sorry too…
Had they loved each other? The stars in her dream whispered that they had. But the darkness between each glittering mote of light promised another answer – emptiness, fragile truth just the same. What was love if not the stars yearning for each other, those that longed to touch but remained trapped in their own light?
Even if they hadn’t, she wished the best for him. Longed to see him one last time, if only to satisfy that cruel temptation in her breast, that perhaps all he needed was a glimpse of her face. He’s lonely, she would tell herself, and he’s gone to this stranger to satisfy the ache of his solitude. He has not abandoned me, has not…
The stars would whisper their false promises, but it was the darkness that answered her with truth. As the dawn crested the gray fugue she knew it to be true in her bones – they had never belonged to each other. It was she who’d been lonely, who had clutched to his bones with the desperate need of the dying lost at sea. He had filled her with a floating peace she never thought she’d find in a man, let alone another of her kind.
But it wasn’t to be. And it hadn’t been love, no matter what the stars promised in their aloof glow. What could they know of love, after all, if they could never touch?
She woke, as she always did, to the dawn.
The prayers ended in the rustle and whisper of cloth, the occasional scuff of some heeled boot against the ground. Pandora Avinici opened her eyes, her face hidden behind a thin veil of pink and white cloth that matched the heron-markings of her cloth-of-crimson dress. She lifted her eyes to the others that filed out, Highborn at the front of the gallery, seated before the onerous preacher with his steel eyes and the wings of white at his hair. Mechari flanked his either side, ensconced in armor that glittered with images of the Dominion’s crest. Pandora was one of those to rise first, and she rose in a ripple of silk, gathering her tote bag. She did not meet the priest’s eyes, but she knew they followed her.
They always did. His lover. The mourning woman who might have, once, united Vasper and Avinici.
“He is not dead,” she would tell them, “pirates would surely ransom a Highborn son…”
They knew the uncertainty in her voice. That was the goal, to convince them of her own ignorance – she knew where Antinous had gone, curse his fool name. She saw him in the eerie red glow that flowed down from the stained glass frescoes as the Scions in their imperious glow glared down at her. But when Pandora looked up in to their eyes, when she heard the priest declare the Eldan’s glory, it wasn’t a god she thought of. Antinous, what are you planning?
The procession of perfumed nobles filed out of the chapel and into Illium’s red-gold light, as the great ball of fire in the sky set into a purplish dusk far off into the horizon. Speeders and aircraft roared and whispered overhead on the city’s skyline, and the white marble streets gleamed as the streetlights flickered on. Pandora found her escort clustered at a bend of the street and made for them.
“My lady,” said Captain Foren. Pandora took comfort in his stolid features, the hard set of his square jaw and shaved features. Beneath his plumed helmet he would be bald as an egg, she knew – Lowborn, but that was no fault of his. It was competency she desired, not blood. “Shall we walk, or…”
“I have a mind to enjoy the city tonight, Captain,” Pandora answered, keeping her tone cool in the event some gawker thought to watch. A flick of her eyes told her otherwise – the Highborn were taking care to step out of the way of the Lowborn and what others of the Dominion’s species had attended the evening’s prayers. She peered back up at Foren. “You may escort me, of course. Keep five paces behind me, with two at my flanks five paces in front, one before me at ten.”
“Of course, my lady.” As Foren turned to relay her commands Pandora cast one last look to the chapel. In the dimming light the building seemed sad, sagging beneath the weight of the shadows that now crawled across its tiered archways and gray and gold walls like drapes of moss.
You always insisted on attending prayer, Antinous, even if you don’t believe in the divinity they preach. Pandora had yet to understand that facet of him, her most elusive –and frustrating—lover to date. The others she’d taken to bed were the same to a last. Her colleagues in the Collegium were that same self-important sort, convinced that pleasure was between the legs. The Legion officers she’d bedded now and then were better versed, to be sure, but theirs was a different sort of release entirely.
Antinous Vasper, however, had stolen her breath away. Not in his lovemaking but in the profundity of his touch, the subtle but terrifying understanding of his own strength and the lack of it. He’d been frail but strong, gentle but almost cruel – and that last part of Antinous had lent a certain tragedy to him, a sadness that Pandora could feel but never understand.
And he was gone, now.
“On your leave, my lady,” Foren said.
Pandora left without preamble, turning her face back to the street. She departed in the direction opposite of her peers – it had been some months since Antinous’s disappearance, and they had hardly been betrothed, but many in the echelons of nobility had already thought of them in such light. They would respect her continued need for distance and, besides, she was Collegium bred. She was allowed certain mysteries if she played carefully.
Her escort formed a diamond about her, with two leading at her left and right as instructed. They wore the glimmering scarlets of House Avinici on their body armor, their single epaulets chiseled with the markings of her family crest, the white heron. All carried stun batons, of course, she was not so uncouth as to give her city escort live weapons. Not that she would need such protections, but appearances were appearances, and she knew ICI was watching no matter how many assurances she gave the public she was ignorant to Antinous’s location.
It seemed no one believed Antinous had been kidnapped by the Solarium, anymore. That charade had been clever but shallow, and a swift –bloody—investigation had proven the Solarium never had eyes for the fourthborn son of a Cassian house, let alone the need for kidnapping him. But the question lingered on the holonet and in the higher circles of the Collegium – where had he gone? And Pandora sat at the center of it all, feigning obliviousness, but how long until they saw through that as well?
The steady ‘thud’ of her escort’s boots did well to drown the hubbub of Illium at night. Somewhere night clubs throbbed, now that dusk fell and the illusion of composure could be shed in sweat and jubilee. A decade ago Pandora might have joined these revelries, but she had a House of her own now, with mother and father gone. That she’d had no siblings, what once seemed a blessing, now seemed a curse. She loathed the doldrums of high society. The more time she spent at the courts the more time she was away from the Collegium’s headquarters and, more importantly, from her and Antinous’s work.
She almost paused midstep at that. His work, Pandora reminded herself, it was always his work. He doesn’t need me – he doesn’t need anyone.
She could admit that much without bitterness. In truth it’s what had drawn her to Antinous to begin with, when they’d shared an assignment years ago on a remote planet just beyond the fringe of Dominion control. They’d been given a sizable escort, of course, but the Eldan ruins there had been harmless. Antinous was convinced it was pirates they were worried about, but Pandora knew better. They were keeping an eye on us, Antinous, but you are still too innocent to think of yourself like that.
He’d handled himself with such autonomy. She knew Antinous had fibromyalgia and epilepsy and whatever else might plague him, but Antinous had asked for no special favors, no sympathy. And it was in his silence Pandora found pity in the calluses of her heart. It was in his competency that she wanted to help, to reach out and tell him he didn’t need to solve the universe alone.
But he would. And Pandora would weep when he did, that she had not been part of it.
Her estate was humble, compared to some of her station. A simple two story building with an iron-grated fence that encircled all around, filled with rose gardens and tall grass that was trimmed just so. Captain Foren brought out his datachron and inputted a series of security codes into the outer gate, and Pandora canted her gaze towards the amber spills of light that streamed out of the ivory curtains. Home didn’t always mean comfort, she knew, and this place was alien to her. She longed for her dormitory in the Collegium’s headquarters blocks and blocks away.
Pandora swept through the grand foyer and ignored the greetings of her servants, their concerned smiles somehow more stinging than any insult they could offer. The curved stairs were a blur, guards stony-faced and helmeted with their plasma rifles poised low, like the beaks of some hunting bird. She took off the heeled boots that reached up to her thighs once she was inside of her bedroom, surrounded in the white herons and sweeping crimson colors of House Avinici. Her bed was a mass of overhanging canopies and overstuffed pillows scented with perfumes. A desk with all her jewels and cosmetics was overlooked by a gilded mirror of stainless glass, but she paid none of it any mind.
It was always cold here, no matter how she adjusted the inner temperature. She’d given up long ago.
Pandora knew she would dream again. They’d come, and come, and Antinous had always told her that her brain scans at night were ‘nothing short of remarkable.’ Instead of feeling pleased, or flattered, Pandora wondered what he’d thought of her. Dreams were supposed to be elucidations from the Scions, according to some sects of the Church. Visions of fulfillment and the plan for Cassian ascendance. But what of Draken dreams? Or Chua dreams? Or those that don’t dream? Are our gods silent to them?
Perhaps Antinous would have an answer to that, but one forlorn look to the vast swath of bedding reminded Pandora of his absence. As if it needed reminding.
She dimmed the lights with a flick of her manicured fingers and began changing into her nightgown, the color of lilac and evening fuchsia. And she thought of Antinous, his last message to her, so vague, so damning. She’d frantically followed the tether of data, brief as it was, and found a single contact – Daniel Fairhurst.
Pandora was not a jealous woman. She’d bedded other men while with Antinous and he had been fully aware of it. Theirs had been an elusive relationship, ephemeral and unseemly to some more conservative. But it had worked. It’d worked and now she…
Pandora shook her head, mussing up her curls in the mirror. She didn’t linger on her face for long, loathe to consider her own features, and slipped back into bed. She carried her datachron with her and read over Antinous’s last, perhaps final, message, the one that had prompted her to reach out to Daniel Fairhurst.
The screen’s glow hurt her eyes, but it was the message itself that tore at her heart.
Have to be brief. Project Praetorian is real, and here. I don’t know if I will see you again. Wipe the server.
Pandora closed her eyes and shut the image out, even if the glow of her ‘chron was still visible behind her eyelids.
She opened the holographic keyboard and began typing something in response, but she sent it to someone else instead. Someone she felt drawn to even if she couldn’t explain why – it might have been jealousy. Or curiosity, how some Exile boy had taken his attention.
What happened? Is Antinous alright?
Please respond if you can.
Pandora set the datachron aside and stared up at the pink canopy of her bed. Whether or not Daniel Fairhurst would reply wasn’t up to her, much as she hated it. She was used to all the pieces being in her grasp, just an inch from being moved at her will. But this, this was beyond her, and Antinous was out there alone…
Not alone. Just not with me.
Pandora clasped her hands together and thought before she dreamt. She thought of the Lady’s Shadow waiting at the starport. She thought of the data trail she’d managed to trace from Antinous’s datachron, she thought of where he might be going.
And she decided.
Posted Feb 27, 17
· Last edited Feb 27, 17